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Stress

 

Stress, a quick overview: 

  1. Stress levels have increased but most people have not developed a strategy to deal with it.
  2. On a cellular level, stress uses the very chemicals that would otherwise be used for growth and maintenance of the body.
  3. Prolonged stress weakens us and much if not most illness stems from stress.
  4. Perceived stress is often as harmful as actual stress.

Anxiety is our body's response to fear or a threatening situation. It signals danger and prepares our body for fight or flight. It is a feeling of nervousness or worry. It's what helps us to not make the same mistake twice or to avoid or be careful when performing a risky or dangerous task. When people have a high level of anxiety most of the time for no apparent reason, then it can be a problem. Most of us have more anxiety than we realize. One of the worst prices of technology is increasing levels of stress.

Most people suffer from some trauma or "future shock" that has been induced by social and environmental stresses. Any city is a large collection of potential stressors. You have the mass media, mass transportation, vast technological innovations, and intense inter-personal stimulation. And you always seem to have a deadline. We live in a deadline-oriented society.

An increased level of stress causes decreased learning ability, inhibits the immune system and increases homocysteine and bad cholesterol levels. Chronic stress actually ages the brain. The increasing complexity and density of society causes increased levels of stress, which inevitably affects our behavior and well being. The National Institute of Mental Health has determined that as much as 70% of all illness is stress related, at a cost of $700 billion annually. Yet the average education included little or no reference to stress or stress management.

There is no single element to the stress response. Rather, stress is an interrelated mixture of external world, mind, body reactions and feelings. Become acquainted with the common ingredients of stress, and investigate what are your own stressors, which are those triggers of stress that kick off your stress reaction. Then you can learn how to change those ingredients in order to reduce your level of stress.

Stress can be viewed as a delicate balance between the demands presented to us as we grasp them, and how we conceive our resources, our ability to react to those demands. It is the perception of these components that apparently triggers the release of cortisol. The primary purpose of cortisol and corticosterone in mammals is basically to mobilize the body's physiological processes against infection.

Demands made upon us can be from either an internal or an external source. Demands that have to do with every day living or with a life-long burden. Demands can be minuscule and numerous or monumental and sparse. A large variety of demands tax our strengths and reserves, but, let us not forget, they also inspire our thoughts and can cause us to achieve great deeds.

Our resources can originate from physiological or psychological sources. Attitude has a strong bearing on how we behave and how we think about ourselves. If we are in good health and generally good physical condition we will most likely behave in a confident, in control, manner, and we can approach demands with a positive enthusiastic attitude. Conversely, illness or run down physical condition can lead to hesitant or procrastinating behaviors, and we will approach demands with a negative attitude.

Self-esteem or how we feel about ourselves has been shown to be a core element of the stress response. If we have a poor self-image, it can easily result in us feeling bad about ourselves, and lead to ineffective behaviors (such as postponing actions that we really ought to do immediately). Yet self-esteem is also influenced by successfully achieving actions and fulfilling demands. A person with low self-esteem has been shown to have higher levels of cortisol in the blood stream.

Occupational overload comes from work environments in which you are faced with time pressure, excessive and diverse responsibility and accountability. Often times there is a lack of managerial or subordinate support, excessive role expectations from yourself, or from your superiors, or others. So that Task Overload comes when the work environment places demands upon you beyond your available resources. Research seems to indicate that increasingly many jobs are deemed to be more stressful than is healthy for the employee. This is especially true of increased organizational accountability.  In some occupations there is a virtually damming expectation for perfection.

Academic overload comes when teachers experience increased responsibilities, and then face increasing classroom violence, all at the same time. The students are pressured to compete to do well academically to achieve honor status that colleges, graduate, and professional schools in order to even be considered for admission. Suicide among teenagers is higher than it has ever been.

Even in the home there is domestic overload resulting from increasing cost of living, crowding, child rearing and family obligations, domestic chores, and repairs, yard work, a multiplicity of ever more complex appliances and electronic gadgets to be operated with intrinsic noise pollution. Many of us are unaware that one of the general areas of stress is frustration.

Stress occurs when natural or desired behaviors or goals are inhibited or thwarted and you are blocked from doing something you want to do. In an external way we respond emotionally to frustration with anger or aggression. Especially if we are the repressive type who internalizes emotion, we may become self destructive, take up addictive bad habits, or become ill.

Dr. Bruce Lipton and others have learned that our cells cannot be in growth and protection modes at the same time. Too much stress can bring about increased blood pressure, hypertension, which may lead to increased incidents of cardiovascular diseases; increased occurrence of gastrointestinal problems; increased instances of sleeping disorders; symptoms of irritability, restlessness, depression, higher levels of anxiety, as well as diminishing  sexual drive, and various other health problems.

Thomas H.Holmes and Richard H. Rahe, at the University of Washington School Of Medicine, developed a Social Readjustment Rating Scale correlating life events with illness in more than 5,000 patients. The conclusion was that stress from problems with money, relationships, and living conditions directly increased serious illness.

Traumatic life events can and do fracture lives. According to Dr. Marlene Steinberg, in her book, The Stranger in the Mirror, Disassociation is our way of withdrawing from unpleasantness. Dissociation "is a healthy adaptive defense used almost universally by people in response to overwhelming stress or life-threatening danger."

So, if you've experienced some aspects of dissociation, that's good. What's bad is if these characteristics are present all of the time in extreme ways. Dissociation can be a person's standard response to trauma, its symptoms are a common reaction to such life threatening events as a car accident or such intense, lasting traumas as rape or military type combat experiences. People who suffer from dissociative symptoms, experience inner pain that interfere with work or relationships.

It was once thought that dissociation was relatively uncommon, yet it is reaching epidemic proportions. As many as 1 out of 10 suffer from this common but elusive disorder, which means it may affect 30 million individuals in North America alone. Dissociation is probably as widespread as anxiety and depression, according to Dr. Steinberg.

There is a strong possibility that you or someone you know suffers from some dissociative condition. Because dissociative experiences are often illusive and hard to describe, they are rarely reported to therapists. The sufferer usually goes untreated or is treated for a symptom of the disorder, such as depression or panic attacks. The condition is often misdiagnosed,

Like anxiety or depression there is a spectrum of Disassociation, and its symptoms are often hidden and undiagnosed. One of the most important is the belief that children would remember such occasions. In fact, the amnesia of dissociation often prevents these memories from surfacing. This abuse most often occurs in alcoholic households. The effects of abuse can be complicated by having occurred in more than one generation in a family.

 Fascination by reports of alien abductions, out-of-body experiences, and near-death experiences can sometimes be manifestations of dissociation. The alien abductions can turn out to be subverted memories of childhood abuse.

Symptoms may be benign or more serious. People subjected to extreme trauma, or prolonged stress or abuse, or recurrent abuse ar more likely to show symptoms. Survivors of a serious accident, abuse, or combat usually experience some form of post-traumatic problems like memory gaps, or being unable to feel close or feel safe. You peer into the mirror and have trouble recognizing yourself. You can't remember whether you actually did something . . . or only thought you did. You feel as though you're just going through the motions of life.
 

"We shut down disconnect, pretend. Feel like we are outside ourself, depersonalized. These are all symptoms of dissociation, a fragmented state of consciousness involving feelings of disconnection and even amnesia."                       -Dr Sternberg
Our perception acts as an imaginary yet distorting lens through which we view both the Demands presented, as well as the Resources available, to us. What we perceive is interpreted in our brain and translated to our thoughts, behaviors. It is our perception that holds the key to the way in which we tint the demands we face, and how we evaluate our available resources to fend them off. In fact, it is actually the perceived level of stess rather than the actual level that our body responds to. For example on a crowded commuter train, the people who get a seat have much less measurable stress than those who stand.

Demands that are perceived as overwhelming may cause us to enter into a vicious feedback loop. Our thoughts play tricks on us, leading to anxiety, which in turn brings about a new wave of disturbing thoughts. This leads to erratic behavior, causing unfulfilled demands, which leads to a new wave of disturbing thoughts, etc. If we change our thoughts, our perception of the demands or of our resources we can break this loop and engage the relaxation response.

Dr James B. Calhoun and associates at the National Institute Of Mental Health ran an experiment from 1968-72 with mice that were allowed to overpopulate their space, even though they had plenty of nourishment. When the physical space was filled and all meaningful social roles within the groups were occupied, that was the beginning of violence and disruption of social organization, according to Calhoun.

Dominant males started breaking down, weary of defending their territory, and females started becoming more aggressive, chasing the young out of their nests prematurely. Young adult males ceased to struggle for a territory of their own and became recluses or formed large motionless aggregates farthest from food and water as did the young adult females. Interest in courtship and mating was lost and although they were physically perfect specimens eventually they all died.

Oftentimes when people living in a small town go to a city, they comment on the unfriendly, impersonal ways of the city. You often read of someone being hurt and no one helping... a shocking lack of concern for the welfare of others. This impersonal attitude is probably another example of a disassociative coping mechanism, which is the result of stress overload. It is a way of coping with the bombardment of excessive social stimuli, and is a defense mechanism that sometimes protects psychological well being by shielding the person from all but the most necessary environmental demands. Also,there are studies indicating that violence in the media conditions us toward indifference. Clearly we need to cultivate the skills of stress management and self-awareness.
 
 

LINKS

Stress Links
Stress Strategies
Stress Management
Self Test for Stress
Job Stress Help Page
Mind Tools: How to Master Stress
American Institute of Stress
How to Survive Unbearable Stress
On-Line Stress Workshop
Stress and Anxiety Research
Stress Management - Self Development
Personal and Occupational Stress anagement 
Common signs and symptoms of stress
Stress Management and Emotional Wellness Links
The American Association for Therapeutic Humor
Meditation and Stress
 
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